SAN FRANCISCO — Just weeks after earning the endorsement of the club’s chairman, Gabe Kapler was fired by the Giants on Friday, the result of a spectacular September collapse that saw his club, in the words of top baseball boss Farhan Zaidi, “play our worst baseball when it mattered most.”
The indictment from Zaidi came Thursday in a conciliatory 15-minute interview on the club’s flagship network, KNBR, in which Zaidi took personal accountability for the club’s shortcomings but also stopped short of affirming his hand-picked manager would be back for the next season.
Less than 24 hours later, Zaidi said in a statement issued by the club that he made the recommendation to fire Kapler and received the approval of ownership.
“In his tenure as Giants manager, Gabe led our team through an unprecedented pandemic in 2020 and a franchise-record 107 wins and postseason berth in 2021,” the statement read. “He has been dedicated and passionate in his efforts to improve the on-field performance of the San Francisco Giants and I have tremendous respect for him as a colleague and friend.
“On behalf of the Giants organization, we wish Gabe the best of luck in his future endeavors and thank him for his contributions over the last four years.”
Entering Friday, the Giants would have to sweep their weekend series against the Dodgers to finish at .500.
In four seasons under Kapler, the Giants went 295-248, a .543 winning percentage, but their 107-win 2021 season remains the only time under Kapler or in five years under Zaidi that they have made the postseason or finished with a winning record.
For the second time in his career, Kapler was fired with one year remaining on his contract. He was let go after two seasons in Philadelphia, which eventually landed on longtime assistant Rob Thomson to lead the team.
The Giants have a similar, respected voice in Ron Wotus if they want to go in that direction. Third base coach Mark Hallberg is also well-regarded in baseball circles and a personal friend of Buster Posey, who’s unlikely to leave his ownership perch.
Outside the organization, they could look to two members of Bruce Bochy’s staff in Texas: associate manager Will Venable or bench coach and offensive coordinator Donnie Ecker. Both have Bay Area ties, and Ecker remains well-liked after serving as Kapler’s hitting coach in 2020 and 2021.
There are also options that carry more gravitas: Craig Counsell’s contract in Milwaukee expires after this season, and reports have indicated he’s leaning against taking a year off. In San Diego, Bob Melvin has a year left on his contract but may be let go, as well, after the Padres’ disappointing season.
Kapler said before Wednesday’s loss to the Padres that he took “a good bit” of responsibility for how the season has transpired, and has made similar self-reflective comments over the course of the past week as they played themselves out of playoff contention.
“At this time of year, the No. 1 thing any one individual can do around here is look in the mirror and think about the things we could’ve done better,” Kapler said Wednesday. “There’s a lot of players on our roster that feel like there’s more in the tank. So I’m always going to challenge myself to figure out how to get the best out of them going forward.”
The Giants have gone 8-17 this September, similar to the late-season struggles that led to Kapler’s ouster in Philadelphia (20-36 in two seasons). He defended his even-keeled, hands-off management style before one of their games last weekend at Dodger Stadium.
“I imagine that when you think about ‘never too high’ or ‘never too low,’ you don’t think about flipping over spread tables, right?” he said. “Yelling and screaming and flailing, do I think those things can be valuable at times? Maybe. Do I think it’s the best way to get the most out of people over the course of time? I don’t.”
Despite chairman Greg Johnson’s comments to the San Francisco Chronicle two weeks earlier, that Zaidi and Kapler “will both be here next year,” Kapler’s job status fell into question when Zaidi declined to affirm the commitment in a Thursday appearance on KNBR.
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At the time of Johnson’s comments, the Giants had survived a prolonged offensive funk and a rocky start to September and still held their postseason fate in their own hands. They have since lost 10 of 13 games, fallen from four games above .500 (75-71) to three games below (78-81) and from the odds-on favorite for the final National League wild card to eliminated before the final weekend of the season.
“As frustrating as anything, with all the ups and downs, when we left on this last road trip, we were in a playoff spot and had a chance to take it home, and we didn’t,” Zaidi said. “When it mattered the most, we played our worst baseball. …
“I’ve been talking to a few people about how 162 games is a grind and we want our players to be comfortable and be able to wash off some of the tough losses. But when you’re in do-or-die games like those games in Arizona, you want them to feel different. I think we’re really going to have to ask ourselves if we were prepared to elevate our level of focus and play for those games that really mattered down the stretch.”
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